“You cannot forgive a person unless you have first condemned him.”
Forgiveness is a common prescription. How many gurus, experts, and teachers have told you to practice daily forgiveness? How many times have you heard that you should forgive those who have hurt you in the past as well as in the past five minutes?
To forgive is said to be divine. To forgive every day is, supposedly, the road to happiness.
Forgiveness, however, does not translate well into a daily practice. Imagine reliving painful moments, crying, and sitting through your worst triggers every single day of your life. That would be exhausting.
Ultimately, forgiveness is like an antibiotic. It should be taken as a last resort. The first resort is prevention. Imagine what would happen if your first instinct was to relate to people in a way that rendered all forgiveness completely unnecessary.
Forgiveness, by definition, is the act of giving pardon. Would you forgive a butterfly for flying? Would you forgive a cloud for raining on you? A child for crying? Of course not. There is no need to forgive these things because you sense no wrongdoing. You have not made any judgment that forgiveness needs to erase.
When I first began my journey of self-revelation, I started forgiving people from my past. I’d been holding intense resentment against anyone and everyone who had hurt me in any big or little way. Forgiving people by the dozen felt like removing giant stones from my chest. Forgiveness seemed to me, at the time, a miracle.
I still remember the first time I sat with my family after I thought I’d become a completely different person. I still remember my shame as the same old anger grew intensely and uncontrollably within me. You know the feeling. Every word, every insult, every look was too much to bear. My face reddened, my heart sped, and my hands tingled. Suddenly, all of that forgiveness talk went right out the window.
After I calmed down, or more accurately after I left town, I could forgive. Miles away, it was easy. Still, I felt ashamed of my reaction. I promised myself I’d do better. I didn’t. Visit after visit, I’d reach my breaking point. I was ready to tear my hair out. I could forgive everyone else. What was I doing wrong?
Eventually, I found the flaw in my thinking: I kept assuming there was something to forgive. For me to forgive, I had to first judge what was being said or done to me as wrong, offensive, or hurtful. Then, I had to become upset, think of other situations when I’d felt upset like that, start to feel helpless, tense up, become irritated, brood, and so on. I had to go through that process until I reached boiling point. Then, and only then, I could practice forgiveness. If I never went there, there would be nothing to forgive.
Looking at people through the eyes of unconditional love, there’s nothing to forgive because no one wrongs me. I judge no one as having done wrong to myself or otherwise. The so-called “toxic people” that live all around me are like fish out of water. They are lacking in a basic life necessity, so they are struggling to stay alive. They hurt because they’re hurt. Ultimately, however, it has been and will always be my choice take their actions personally.
This is the difference in perception that you experience when you see through someone’s external form into what lies inside. When you see your friend, your enemy, and yourself as the same, that is love. When you can recognize the common element between those three people, then you know love.
And, with love, there’s no need for forgiveness.
Of course, learning to see people through the eyes of unconditional love takes time and practice. And we cannot expect ourselves to do it in every situation. Of course, we will slip up. I do all the time. But the point is that, if we choose love, again and again, soon enough, forgiveness becomes less necessary. We judge less and less.
If you’re suffering from resentment for someone, why not try taking a different look at the one who you believe has wronged you? Ask yourself:
- Does this person have enough love in his or her life?
- In what way were his actions symptoms of his or her own suffering?
Instead of seek to pardon, seek to understand. When you see your enemy’s actions and words as completely reasonable byproducts of his or her livelihood and experiences, then you do not need to forgive. You will have simply withdrawn judgment and added love.
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Now, over to you. What are your experiences with forgiveness? When has it been difficult? When has it been easy? How can you incorporate loving acceptance as a substitute for forgiveness?